Now we know

On Aug. 1 – or possibly sooner if health metrics improve quickly – all COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses across Massachusetts will be lifted.
 
"The light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the hard work of so many, is getting closer,” Gov. Charlie Baker said yesterday as he announced a final series of phased-in reopening steps which are all listed here.
 
Starting May 10, large venue and stadium capacity will increase to 25%. Amusement parks can open at half capacity. Indoor singing (with some restrictions) and road races will be allowed too.
 
Then on May 29 you’ll be able to buy your favorite e-mail newsletter author a beer without also having to buy me dinner. Bars, beer gardens, breweries, wineries and distilleries can reopen too, although still following 90-minute table limit and other rules. Table seating can increase from 6 to 10 people.
 
That same weekend, gathering limits increase to 200 people indoors and 250 outdoors. Street festivals, parades and agricultural festivals can come back too -- at half-capacity.
 
Then finally, on Aug. 1 -- some 500 days after the original shutdown -- all business restrictions, including capacity limits, will be lifted.
 
Which means on Aug. 10 (the first Red Sox home game of the month) this technically could happen.*
 
*Yeah, I’m not sure I'm ready for that either.
 
 
But our neighbors will be months ahead of us
 
While Baker's timeframe helps our businesses plan for the months ahead, Connecticut will lift most restrictions May 19. Rhode Island will do the same on May 28.
 
Curious about the rest of the country? The New York Times has a state by state list here.
 
"We hope that with more vaccines and a continued success in stopping COVID we can take this step earlier, but it will depend on everyone continuing to get vaccinated and doing the right things," Baker said.
 
Even after the restrictions are lifted on Aug 1, the Mass Department of Public Health will continue to issue guidance as needed, the administration told State House News.
 
 
Outdoor masks lifted, not state of emergency
 
Coinciding with yesterday’s recommendation from the CDC, Baker also lifted the outdoor mask requirement effective this Friday. 
 
Masks will still be required at indoor public places and at large outdoor events.
 
Baker did not say yesterday when he might lift the COVID-19 state of emergency. But his, and likely many others’ spirits were lifted by the latest metrics and increased vaccination rate.
 
 “It’s easily been the longest year of my life, and I think for lot of people, the longest, most difficult, in some case the most brutal,” he said. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am my dad survived this whole thing because that sure wasn’t true for a lot of other people.”
 
 
‘Work for us, win a car'
 
While business owners will be happy to be able to operate at full capacity, filling jobs to run their operations becoming a big problem for many.
 
new national survey illustrates just how challenging: Forty-two percent of independent business owners report that they had job openings in March they couldn’t fill. That’s a record high and 20 percentage points higher than the 48-year historical average of 22%, according to  the National Federation for Independent Business.
 
Hospitality has been one of the hardest hit industries. The industry was devastated in the early days of COVID and shed jobs at a frantic pace. As vaccination rates have climbed and more diners are heading back out to eat, many restaurants haven’t been able to find workers to keep pace.
 
Desperate times lead to, um, creative measures. A 20-restaurant seafood chain in Florida is offering new employees and employees offering referrals a chance to win a new car. Employees receive one entry for every 30 days they work for the chain through September (The Business Journal).
 
 
Store fronts to be converted to pop-ups
 
Newton and Needham are partnering on a new pop-up pilot program that aims to fill vacant storefronts with small retailers, restaurants and artists.
 
Project: Pop-Up will allow small retailers to access storefronts in both communities at a significantly reduced cost to the businesses.
 
The retailers, many of whom are currently operating primarily online, will have access to the commercial space for 2-3 months to introduce their businesses to a wider audience, and will have access to a wide range of support services to help ensure their success.
 
The program is funded by a state grant and will be managed by UpNext, a Newton-based, woman-owned, chamber member, business that plays matchmaker between emerging brands and available spaces.
 
Landlords participating in this project will offset the market rate rent by at least 50%, while the grant funds will further subsidize costs for entrepreneurs, leaving them with rents as low as $500 per month. Crosspoint Associates has already committed as a participant for the former Qdoba space at Newton Nexus. UpNext is looking to identify other vacant spaces. (BBJ story)
 
Retailers, artists, food purveyors and other innovators who are interested in participating in the program can apply here. Minority and women-owned businesses are especially encouraged to apply. The deadline is May 3.
 
 
Tips for reducing costs on your empty office
 
Has your office been closed or mostly closed but the CAM (common-area-maintenance) fees you pay your landlords have gone up or maybe not decreased as you might have expected?
 
The BBJ has these tips for how to minimize the surcharge which often include a variety of property operating costs, including utilities, security, janitorial services, property taxes and insurance. 
 
 
Select board supports rezoning Muzi/Ch. 5 site
 
Needham select board voted 3-0 last night, with one abstention in support of rezoning the Muzi/Channel 5 parcels along I-95.
 
New select board member Marcus Nelson (who had said he opposed the measure prior to begin elected) abstained, while indicating that he was mostly convinced by the need to rezone the parcels.
 
The board’s other new member Lakshmi Balachandra was absent. 

 
Need to knows
 
  • Businesses and tax-exempt organizations with fewer than 500 employees and certain governmental employers, can receive a federal tax credit for providing paid time off for each employee receiving the vaccine and for any time needed to recover from the vaccine. For example, if an eligible employer offers employees a paid day off in order to get vaccinated, the employer can receive a tax credit equal to the wages paid to employees for that day (up to certain limits). Learn more.
  • Did you know that chamber membership is at the corporate level? This means your company’s membership covers all of your employees. Sign your colleagues up here to receive this newsletter and other updates. Email info@nnchamber.com for help.
  • Needham Music and Michelson's Shoes were both featured as part the MA Office of Travel and Tourism's "Find My Local" Campaign. Read theirs and more local businesses stories here or submit your own via this form for a chance to be featured. Shops, attractions, hotels and restaurants can also build out a free listing on the agency's VisitMA.com website. More info here
 
 
Restaurant grant fund opens next week
 
The SBA will begin accepting applications to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to applications starting Monday (May 3) but businesses can actually register here to start the application process here starting this Friday (April 30).
 
Applicants are encouraged to register on Friday and submit their application on Monday since funds are will be available on a first-come first-serve basis and there’s already there’s some concern that the program won’t have enough funds to meet demand, writes Andy Medici for the BBJ.
 
“We believe that it’s very likely the $28.6 billion fund will be gone in a matter of weeks, possibly only a few,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president for public affairs at the National Restaurant Association.
 
The Independent Restaurant Coalition is hosting a webinar with the SBA at noon today (Weds). And the SBA is also hosting webinars on the program at 1 p.m. today and a second session at 2:30 p.m.
 
 
Your chamber is hiring!
 
The Newton-Needham Regional Chamber is seeking a part time (approx. 10 hrs/week) administrative assistant/bookkeeper to join our small, but busy organization. More information here.
 
 
Tonight: Don’t just stand there … run!
 
Thinking about running for office in Newton’s fall municipal election?
 
Tonight (Weds) at 5:30 p.m. the League of Women Voters of Newton will offer information and advice on issues like filing official paperwork, creating effective campaign communications and understanding the demands of public office. 
 
Panelists include David Olson, former Newton City Clerk; Ted Hess-Mahan, former Newton City Councilor; Bridget Ray-Canada, School Committee member and your chamber president (me). Register.
 
 
Feeding coworkers and friends just became ‘Easy’
 
Finally this morning, as more offices open and rules relax on private gatherings, we wanted to create a way to make it easy for employers and others to order take out for their teams from our local restaurants.
 
So the chamber’s restaurant committee, the Newton-Needham Dining Collaborative, has created Easy Eats, a one-stop shop to browse catering options for any occasion using local independent restaurants and caterers.
 
Browse the directory here and bookmark it for the next time you’re looking to order for your office staff or need event catering.
 
That's all for today. Be back tomorrow.
 
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.

P.S. Looking for something that appeared in an earlier edition of this e-newsletter? We’ve archived them all here.

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